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GEORGE FOX - An Autobiography

CHAPTER V. One Man May Shake the Country for Ten Miles

1651-1652.


V.

Being again at liberty, I went on, as before, in the work of the Lord, passing through the country into Leicestershire, having meetings as I went; and the Lord's Spirit and power accompanied me.

As I was walking with several Friends, I lifted up my head and saw three steeple-house spires, and they struck at my life. I asked them what place that was. They said, "Lichfield." Immediately the Word of the Lord came to me that I must go thither. Being come to the house we were going to, I wished the Friends to walk into the house, saying nothing to them of whither I was to go. As soon as they were gone I stepped away, and went by my eye over hedge and ditch till I came within a mile of Lichfield, where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their sheep.

asterix Then was I commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still, for it was winter; and the Word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put off my shoes, and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished. Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within the city, the Word of the Lord came to me again, saying, "Cry, 'Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!'" So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, "Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!" It being market-day, I went into the market-place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands, crying as before, "Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!" And no one laid hands on me.

As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood.

When I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace, and, returning to the shepherds, I gave them some money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fire of the Lord was so in my feet, and all over me, that I did not matter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether I should or no, till I felt freedom from the Lord so to do; then, after I had washed my feet, I put on my shoes again.

After this a deep consideration came upon me, for what reason I should be sent to cry against that city, and call it the bloody city! For, though the Parliament had had the minster one while, and the King another, and much blood had been shed in the town during the wars between them, yet that was no more than had befallen many other places. But afterwards I came to understand, that in the Emperor Diocletian's time a thousand Christians were martyred in Lichfield.[61]

Passing on, I was moved of the Lord to go to Beverley steeple-house, which was then a place of high profession; and being very wet with rain, I went first to an inn. As soon as I came to the door, a young woman of the house came to the door, and said, "What, is it you? come in," as if she had known me before; for the Lord's power bowed their hearts. So I refreshed myself and went to bed; and in the morning, my clothes being still wet, I got ready, and having paid for what I had had in the inn, I went up to the steeple-house, where was a man preaching. When he had done, I was moved to speak to him, and to the people, in the mighty power of God, and to turn them to their teacher, Christ Jesus. The power of the Lord was so strong, that it struck a mighty dread amongst the people. The mayor came and spoke a few words to me; but none of them had any power to meddle with me.

So I passed away out of the town, and in the afternoon went to another steeple-house about two miles off. When the priest had done, I was moved to speak to him, and to the people very largely, showing them the way of life and truth, and the ground of election and reprobation. The priest said he was but a child, and could not dispute with me. I told him I did not come to dispute, but to hold forth the Word of life and truth unto them, that they might all know the one Seed, to which the promise of God was given, both in the male and in the female. Here the people were very loving, and would have had me come again on a week-day, and preach among them; but I directed them to their teacher, Christ Jesus, and so passed away.

The next day I went to Cranswick, to Captain Pursloe's, who accompanied me to Justice Hotham's. This Justice Hotham was a tender man, one that had had some experience of God's workings in his heart. After some discourse with him of the things of God, he took me into his closet, where, sitting with me, he told me he had known that principle[62] these ten years, and was glad that the Lord did now publish it abroad to the people. After a while there came a priest to visit him, with whom also I had some discourse concerning the Truth. But his mouth was quickly stopped, for he was nothing but a notionist, and not in possession of what he talked of.

While I was here, there came a great woman of Beverley to speak to Justice Hotham about some business; and in discourse she told him that the last Sabbath-day (as she called it) there came an angel or spirit into the church at Beverley, and spoke the wonderful things of God, to the astonishment of all that were there; and when it had done, it passed away, and they did not know whence it came, nor whither it went; but it astonished all, -- priest, professors, and magistrates of the town. This relation Justice Hotham gave me afterwards, and then I gave him an account of how I had been that day at Beverley steeple-house, and had declared truth to the priest and people there.

I went to another steeple-house about three miles off, where preached a great high-priest, called a doctor, one of them whom Justice Hotham would have sent for to speak with me. I went into the steeple-house, and stayed till the priest had done. The words which he took for his text were these, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."

Then was I moved of the Lord God to say unto him, "Come down, thou deceiver; dost thou bid people come freely, and take of the water of life freely, and yet thou takest three hundred pounds a year of them for preaching the Scriptures to them. Mayest thou not blush for shame? Did the prophet Isaiah, and Christ do so, who spoke the words, and gave them forth freely? Did not Christ say to His ministers, whom He sent to preach, 'Freely ye have received, freely give'?"

The priest, like a man amazed, hastened away. After he had left his flock, I had as much time as I could desire to speak to the people; and I directed them from the darkness to the Light, and to the grace of God, that would teach them, and bring them salvation; to the Spirit of God in their inward parts, which would be a free teacher unto them.

Having cleared myself amongst the people, I returned to Justice Hotham's house that night. When I came in he took me in his arms, and said his house was my house; for he was exceedingly glad of the work of the Lord, and that His power was revealed.

Thence I passed on through the country, and came at night to an inn where was a company of rude people. I bade the woman of the house, if she had any meat, to bring me some; but because I said Thee and Thou to her, she looked strangely on me. I asked her if she had any milk. She said, No. I was sensible she spake falsely; and, being willing to try her further, I asked her if she had any cream? She denied that she had any.

There stood a churn in the room, and a little boy, playing about, put his hands into it and pulled it down, and threw all the cream on the floor before my eyes. Thus was the woman manifested to be a liar. She was amazed, blessed herself, took up the child, and whipped it sorely: but I reproved her for her lying and deceit. After the Lord had thus discovered her deceit and perverseness, I walked out of the house, and went away till I came to a stack of hay, and lay in the hay-stack that night, in rain and snow, it being but three days before the time called Christmas.

The next day I came into York, where were several very tender people. Upon the First-day following, I was commanded of the Lord to go and speak to priest Bowles and his hearers in their great cathedral. Accordingly I went. When the priest had done, I told them I had something from the Lord God to speak to the priest and people. "Then say on quickly," said a professor, for there was frost and snow, and it was very cold weather. Then I told them that this was the Word of the Lord God unto them, -- that they lived in words, but God Almighty looked for fruits amongst them.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, they hurried me out, and threw me down the steps. But I got up again without hurt, and went to my lodging, and several were convinced there. For that which arose from the weight and oppression that was upon the Spirit of God in me, would open people, strike them, and make them confess that the groans which broke forth through me did reach them, for my life was burthened with their profession without possession, and their words without fruit.


[After being thus violently tumbled down the steps of the great minster, George Fox found his next few days crowded with hot discussion. Papists and Ranters and Scotch "priests" made him stand forth for the hope that was in him. The Ranters, he says, "had spent their portions, and not living in that which they spake of, were now become dry. They had some kind of meetings, but they took tobacco and drank ale in their meetings and were grown light and loose." After the narrative of an attempt to push him over the cliffs the account continues.]


Another priest sent to have a dispute with me, and Friends went with me to the house where he was; but when he understood we were come, he slipped out of the house, and hid himself under an hedge. The people went and found him, but could not get him to come to us.

Then I went to a steeple-house hard by, where the priest and people were in a great rage. This priest had threatened Friends what he would do; but when I came he fled; for the Lord's power came over him and them. Yea, the Lord's everlasting power was over the world, and reached to the hearts of people, and made both priests and professors tremble. It shook the earthly and airy spirit in which they held their profession of religion and worship; so that it was a dreadful thing to them when it was told them, "The man in leathern breeches is come."[63] At the hearing thereof the priests in many places got out of the way, they were so struck with the dread of the eternal power of God; and fear surprised the hypocrites.


[At Pickering he stood in "the steeple-house yard" and told the people what his mission was, with as clear a claim to a divine commission as a Hebrew prophet would have made.]


I was sent of the Lord God of heaven and earth to preach freely, and to bring people off from these outward temples made with hands, which God dwelleth not in; that they might know their bodies to become the temples of God and of Christ; and to draw people off from all their superstitious ceremonies, Jewish and heathenish customs, traditions, and doctrines of men; and from all the world's hireling teachers, that take tithes and great wages, preaching for hire, and divining for money, whom God and Christ never sent, as themselves confess when they say that they never heard God's nor Christ's voice. I exhorted the people to come off from all these things, directing them to the Spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the Light of Jesus in their own hearts; that they might come to know Christ, their free teacher, to bring them salvation, and to open the Scriptures to them.

Thus the Lord gave me a good opportunity to open things largely unto them. All was quiet, and many were convinced; blessed be the Lord.

asterix I passed to another town, where was another great meeting, the old priest being with me; and there came professors of several sorts to it. I sat on a haystack, and spoke nothing for some hours; for I was to famish them from words. The professors would ever and anon be speaking to the old priest, and asking him when I would begin, and when I would speak? He bade them wait; and told them that the people waited upon Christ a long while before He spoke.

At last I was moved of the Lord to speak; and they were struck by the Lord's power. The Word of life reached to them, and there was a general convincement amongst them.

Now I came towards Cranswick, to Captain Pursloe's and Justice Hotham's, who received me kindly, being glad that the Lord's power had so appeared; that truth was spread, and so many had received it. Justice Hotham said that if God had not raised up this principle of Light and life which I preached, the nation would have been overrun with Ranterism,[64] and all the justices in the nation could not have stopped it with all their laws; "Because," said he, "they would have said as we said, and done as we commanded, and yet have kept their own principle still. But this principle of truth," said he, "overthrows their principle, and the root and ground thereof"; and therefore he was glad the Lord had raised up this principle of life and truth.

The next day Friends and friendly people having left me, I travelled alone, declaring the day of the Lord amongst people in the towns where I came, and warning them to repent. I came towards night into a town called Patrington. As I walked along the town, I warned both priest and people (for the priest was in the street) to repent and turn to the Lord. It grew dark before I came to the end of the town, and a multitude of people gathered about me, to whom I declared the Word of life.

When I had cleared myself I went to an inn, and desired them to let me have a lodging; but they would not. I desired a little meat or milk, and said I would pay for it; but they refused. So I walked out of the town, and a company of fellows followed, and asked me, "What news?" I bade them repent, and fear the Lord.

After I was gone a pretty way, I came to another house, and desired the people to let me have a little meat, drink, and lodging for my money; but they denied me. I went to another house, and desired the same; but they refused me also. By this time it was grown so dark that I could not see the highway; but I discerned a ditch, and got a little water, and refreshed myself. Then I got over the ditch; and, being weary with travelling, I sat down amongst the furze bushes till it was day.

About break of day I got up, and passed on over the fields. A man came after me with a great pikestaff and went along with me to a town; and he raised the town upon me, with the constable and chief constable, before the sun was up. I declared God's everlasting truth amongst them, warning them of the day of the Lord, that was coming upon all sin and wickedness; and exhorted them to repent. But they seized me, and had me back to Patrington, about three miles, guarding me with watch-bills, pikes, staves, and halberds.

When I was come to Patrington, all the town was in an uproar, and the priest and constables were consulting together; so I had another opportunity to declare the Word of life amongst them, and warn them to repent. At last a professor, a tender man, called me into his house, and there I took a little milk and bread, having not eaten for some days before. Then they guarded me about nine miles to a justice.

When I was come near his house, a man came riding after us, and asked me whether I was the man that was apprehended. I asked him wherefore he asked. He said, "For no hurt." I told him I was: so he rode away to the justice before us. The men that guarded me said it would be well if the justice were not drunk before we got to him; for he used to get drunk early.

When I was brought in before him, because I did not put off my hat, and because I said Thou to him, he asked the man that rode thither before me whether I was not mazed or fond.[65] The man told him, No; it was my principle.

I warned him to repent, and come to the Light with which Christ had enlightened him; that by it he might see all his evil words and actions, and turn to Christ Jesus whilst he had time; and that whilst he had time he should prize it. "Ay, ay," said he, "the Light that is spoken of in the third of John." I desired he would mind it, and obey it.

As I admonished him, I laid my hand upon him, and he was brought down by the power of the Lord; and all the watchmen stood amazed. Then he took me into a little parlour with the other man, and desired to see what I had in my pockets of letters or intelligence. I plucked out my linen, and showed him I had no letters. He said, "He is not a vagrant, by his linen"; then he set me at liberty.

I went back to Patrington with the man that had rode before me to the justice: for he lived at Patrington. When I came there, he would have had me have a meeting at the Cross; but I said it was no matter; his house would serve. He desired me to go to bed, or lie down upon a bed; which he did, that they might say they had seen me in a bed, or upon a bed; for a report had been raised that I would not lie on any bed, because at that time I lay many times out of doors.[66] Now when the First-day of the week was come, I went to the steeple-house, and declared the truth to the priest and people; and the people did not molest me, for the power of God was come over them. Presently after I had a great meeting at the man's house where I lay, and many were convinced of the Lord's everlasting truth, who stand faithful witnesses of it to this day. They were exceedingly grieved that they had not received me, nor given me lodging, when I was there before.

Thence I travelled through the country, even to the furthest part thereof, warning people, in towns and villages, to repent, and directing them to Christ Jesus, their teacher.

On the First-day of the week I came to one Colonel Overton's house, and had a great meeting of the prime of the people of that country; where many things were opened out of the Scriptures which they had never heard before. Many were convinced, and received the Word of life, and were settled in the truth of God.

Then I returned to Patrington again, and visited those Friends that were convinced there; by whom I understood that a tailor, and some wild blades in that town, had occasioned my being carried before the justice. The tailor came to ask my forgiveness, fearing I would complain of him. The constables also were afraid, lest I should trouble them. But I forgave them all, and warned them to turn to the Lord, and to amend their lives.

Now that which made them the more afraid was this: when I was in the steeple-house at Oram, not long before, there came a professor, who gave me a push on the breast in the steeple-house, and bade me get out of the church. "Alas, poor man!" said I, "dost thou call the steeple-house the Church? The Church is the people, whom God hath purchased with His blood, and not the house." It happened that Justice Hotham came to hear of this man's abuse, sent his warrant for him, and bound him over to the sessions; so affected was he with the Truth and so zealous to keep the peace. And indeed this Justice Hotham had asked me before whether any people had meddled with me, or abused me; but I was not at liberty to tell him anything of that kind, but was to forgive all.

The next First-day I went to Tickhill, whither the Friends of that side gathered together, and a mighty brokenness by the power of God there was amongst the people. I went out of the meeting, being moved of God to go to the steeple-house. When I came there, I found the priest and most of the chief of the parish together in the chancel.

I went up to them, and began to speak; but they immediately fell upon me; the clerk up with his Bible, as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it, so that my face gushed out with blood; and I bled exceedingly in the steeple-house. The people cried, "Let us have him out of the church." When they had got me out, they beat me exceedingly, threw me down, and turned me over a hedge. They afterwards dragged me through a house into the street, stoning and beating me as they dragged me along; so that I was all over besmeared with blood and dirt. They got my hat from me, which I never had again. Yet when I was got upon my legs, I declared the Word of life, showed them the fruits of their teacher, and how they dishonored Christianity.

After awhile I got into the meeting again amongst Friends, and the priest and people coming by the house, I went with Friends into the yard, and there spoke to the priest and people. The priest scoffed at us, and called us Quakers. But the Lord's power was so over them, and the Word of life was declared in such authority and dread to them, that the priest fell a-trembling himself; and one of the people said, "Look how the priest trembles and shakes; he is turned a Quaker also."

When the meeting was over, Friends departed; and I went without my hat to Balby, about seven or eight miles. Friends were much abused that day by the priest and his people: insomuch that some moderate justices hearing of it, two or three of them came and sat at the town to examine the business. He that had shed my blood was afraid of having his hand cut off for striking me in the church, as they called it; but I forgave him, and would not appear against him.

Thence I went to Wakefield; and on the First-day after, I went to a steeple-house where James Nayler[67] had been a member of an Independent church; but upon his receiving truth, he was excommunicated. When I came in, and the priest had done, the people called upon me to come up to the priest, which I did; but when I began to declare the Word of life to them, and to lay open the deceit of the priest, they rushed upon me suddenly, thrust me out at the other door, punching and beating me, and cried, "Let us have him to the stocks." But the Lord's power restrained them, that they were not suffered to put me in.

So I passed away to the meeting, where were a great many professors and friendly people gathered, and a great convincement there was that day; for the people were mightily satisfied that they were directed to the Lord's teaching in themselves. Here we got some lodging; for four of us had lain under a hedge the night before, there being then few Friends in that place.

The priest of that church, of which James Nayler had been a member, whose name was Marshall, raised many wicked slanders about me, as that I carried bottles with me, and made people drink of them, which made them follow me; and that I rode upon a great black horse, and was seen in one country upon it in one hour, and at the same hour in another country threescore miles off; and that I would give a fellow money to follow me, when I was on my black horse. With these lies he fed his people, to make them think evil of the truth which I had declared amongst them. But by these lies he preached many of his hearers away from him; for I was then travelling on foot, and had no horse at that time; which the people generally knew.

As we travelled through the country, preaching repentance to the people, we came into a market-town, where a lecture was held that day. I went into the steeple-house, where many priests, professors and people were. The priest that preached took for his text those words of Jeremiah 5:31, "My people love to have it so": leaving out the foregoing words, viz.: "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means." I showed the people his deceit; and directed them to Christ, the true teacher within; declaring that God was come to teach His people himself, and to bring them off from all the world's teachers and hirelings; that they might come to receive freely from Him. Then, warning them of the day of the Lord that was coming upon all flesh, I passed thence without much opposition.

At night we came to a country place, where there was no public house near. The people desired us to stay all night; which we did, and had good service for the Lord, declaring His truth amongst them.

The Lord had said unto me that if but one man or woman were raised by His power to stand and live in the same Spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the Scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession[68] for ten miles round. For people had the Scripture, but were not in the same Light, power, and Spirit which those were in who gave forth the Scripture; so they neither knew God, Christ, nor the Scriptures aright; nor had they unity one with another, being out of the power and Spirit of God. Therefore we warned all, wherever we met them, of the day of the Lord that was coming upon them.

Chapter Six ...>>


Notes and Links

[61] It must be remembered that this act of George Fox occurred at the close of a year of imprisonment, a part of which had been in a horrible jail. He was throughout his life restless and active to an extreme degree. For an entire year, just as his work was getting well begun, he had been forced to live in this nut-shell of a prison -- day after day inactive. Now he was free again, and the old restlessness to be doing something came upon him with irresistible force. He was in no condition to inhibit suggestions. It is quite possible that some subconscious memory here gave the suggestion. In 1612 one Wightman was burned at the stake in Lichfield, and the deed was fresh in the minds of men at this time. Then the name Lichfield means "field of dead bodies," a name which doubtless had its origin in some baptism of blood, and George in his boyhood may have heard some tale of those bloody times.

[62] The light of Christ working on the heart.

[63] This is the foundation for the famous passage on George Fox, in Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus," Book III., Chap. 1. There is, however, no foundation for Carlyle's picture of Fox cutting and stitching his own leather suit. Sewel distinctly says that these leather breeches had no connection with "his former leather work." Croese says that his entire suit was leather. This form of dress was not very unusual at the time, and was probably chosen for its durability.

[64] This remark of Justice Hotham is an observation of considerable historical significance.

[65] Foolish.

[66] Fox's power of endurance will be noticed in every part of this autobiography. He sleeps under hedges, fences or haystacks. He goes days without suitable food. He speaks in difficult places as often as occasion presents, and goes through the attacks of hostile crowds with an endurance which is astonishing. This iron constitution carried him through the long imprisonments which thinned the ranks of his co-laborers.

[67] This James Nayler, who left his Independent church to become a Quaker had a future history of pathetic interest. He was a powerful minister, and his very success led to his downfall, which will be recorded in the proper place later on.

[68] "All the country in their profession" means "all the people throughout the country who are mere nominal Christians."